If the word "tricycle" conjures up images of the shiny red model from childhood, think again.
A group of UF students is building a new generation of tricycle, powered by the sun, as an environmentally friendly means of transportation. The trike has four 12-volt solar panels, which can collect the sun's rays and filter them into a battery.
Nate Mitten, a mechanical engineering doctoral student, came up with the idea for the solar trike during a project for his engineering entrepreneurship class last spring.
After he and his group designed models of the vehicle for class, Mitten decided to continue the project and actually build the trike.
The group, part of the American Solar Energy Society, or ASES, at UF, planned its project and began building the trike, the "ASES Photon," this summer.
Commuting with cars or public transportation can be frustrating because it is often expensive, slow and wasteful, Mitten said.
However, he added, some people are reluctant to switch to bicycles for four reasons: safety, storage, weather and exertion.
"We can promote a vehicle that's sustainable with a much smaller carbon footprint," Mitten said.
Riders will be able to use battery power at times to reduce exertion. The trike will feature storage, removable side panels and a windshield for weather protection.
Once completed, the solar trike will have headlights, taillights, brake lights and turning signals, as well as a seat belt. A rider can alternate pedaling with using the battery, which can run about 20 miles per hour on its own, or use both simultaneously, Mitten said.
In the future, the group hopes to add luxury features like a cell phone charger, GPS system and speakers.
"We're basically going to pimp it out with fun stuff," Mitten said.
Skip Ingley, the group's adviser, said the trike is a great educational tool that helps demonstrate the use of solar power.
Although people who are unenthusiastic about riding a bicycle will probably be skeptical about the tricycle, it still gives students a solar-powered option for transportation, he said.
"Some people just want to get into their BMWs and drive to school," Ingley said. "But anybody who rides a bike to school is going to be thrilled with this … and people will love watching you ride the thing."
The trike weighs about 70 pounds and has cost the group, with the help of sponsors, about $3,000, Mitten said. However, he added, both of those numbers will change as more materials and features are figured in.
"We have a vision that we're working towards, but we're certainly only partway there," Mitten said.
There are no plans to commercialize and mass-produce the ASES Photon, though Mitten would love to see it happen. He said manufacturing it is more eco-friendly than manufacturing a car.
After the original model is completed, which Mitten hopes will happen in December, the group will continue to showcase the trike on campus and branch out to local schools.
Driving the tricycle rather than a car, even just to the store and back, would save gasoline and decrease carbon dioxide output every time, Mitten said.
"It's pretty much zero contribution to the environment and global warming, once you manufacture it," he said. "It's a win-win for everyone."